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The Brain to Skin Connection

Posted by Jeriel & Bobbie on

How stress affects skin health

All of our systems are intertwined, one feeds into the other and vice versa. Lately it seems we have focused our intellectual energy on the brain-gut connection, while minimizing so many other systems that are deeply connected. As business owners, we have been ruminating on stress and the effects it has taken on our own bodies and our employees. These thoughts feel even heavier as we lean into Stress Awareness month.

The skin and the brain are inherently interconnected systems that share a powerful bond and one that keeps us safe. When there is heat on the skin the brain knows to pull away, when we are embarrassed we blush, and when we are suffering from anxiety, lack of sleep, or depression our brain and skin react to tell us to slow down and chill out. 

oil dripping on skin
trying to balance it all

After I had my first daughter, and those sleepless nights began to creep up on me, a dullness took over my whole being. As the founder of a skincare company my face was the first place I noticed the effects of stress from being a new mother. Other things followed, a light fog, postpartum depression, and achy muscles. At this time, I was also diagnosed with a rare degenerative disease. While I was trying to hold it all in, my skin was telling the whole story to the world - severe breakouts, dullness, dehydration, and inflammation took over my face. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't hide from the help I needed.

skin before
skin after

Being a new mom and trying to keep my business afloat had put me in a state of chronic stress. There are two kinds of stress we experience, acute and chronic. Acute is where you activate fight or flight, there is a resolution and your nervous system recovers. This kind of stress can actually be good for you and your skin. It enhances our mental clarity and can even produce collagen to quickly begin wound repair. However, chronic stress can activate an onslaught of skin issues, ranging from small acne flare ups to eczema, rosacea, and general inflammation. 

how your brain and body react to stress

Our body, though intricate and wildly confusing, is also quite simple at times. Our skin needs very little to actually thrive; water, oil and a healthy microbiome. When we are in a state of constant stress our body makes a surplus of cortisol which dries our skin out, depletes the oils and without the water and oil our microbiome is compromised and our pH is thrown off. Our skin is like the soil, when we deplete it of its natural nutrients it cannot create a beautiful garden. When we are stressed, the outcome is dehydrated skin that tries to catch up by making too much sebum and altering our acid mantle and overall skin health. For me the stress became an ongoing cystic breakout around my mouth and chin. Despite my body giving me so many signals to slow down and get help it wasn't until I had to see it daily in the mirror that I took action. Embarrassingly, this shows a deep level of vanity, but also how profoundly the skin and the brain are connected. 

a culture full of demands

We live in a culture that is in a chronic state of stress (for some it’s even a status symbol or reflection of accomplishment), we are bombarded with climate change, violence, political unrest, social pressures, and literally everything else it takes just to survive... Which is why we need to address the effects it has on our skin as well as our mental health. There is so much demand for perfection, for a flawless face, body, home, family, financial status; and honestly no one needs that pressure. What we need is empathy and a deep understanding that your skin may be telling a story that we often ignore. 

Finding ways to decompress

Here are a list of things that helped me on my skin-stress healing journey:

  • Keeping hydrated - I removed everything in my routine that dried my skin out so that I could start allowing my microbiome to heal. That meant no retinol, salicylic acid, etc…

  • Limiting my time online - as a business owner I had created a narrative that I always needed to be posting, responding, or researching, and this was unhealthy for me.

  • New ways to manage stressors - when I became depressed or anxious I learned that having my husband ask me to take a walk with him made me feel like I was helping him and gave me space to take a break.

  • Major cleanup - I got rid of toxic cleaning chemicals, detergents, and any skin or hair care products outside of my own brand. Acknowledging how toxic our life had become was a profound shift for me. Financially we were extremely strapped (another stressor) So I was buying the things we could afford, and not what was best/healthiest for our family. Truth be told, making my own house cleaner was more economical in the end.

  • Movement - I started swimming everyday. Water has a profound calming effect for me and exercise boosts serotonin.

  • Mental health - I started to see a therapist and worked with her to find ways to cope. And real talk… I needed antidepressants, which was a necessary piece in all of this.

couple walking
clean products
allowing yourself the space

All of these things worked synergistically to support my mental health and heal my skin. Exercise helped create antioxidants that helped my mood and began healing my skin. I set time limits for my phone and put it on DND during certain hours - that gave me space to read, meditate, and journal. All of these things helped decrease my cortisol levels and my skin began healing and my mind and soul started to settle.

Realistically we have very little control on the big picture stressors but we can find ways to work through the stress without going into a full-blown panic response which affects our skin and whole body health. Whatever that means for you, I encourage you to take extra care of yourself this month (and every month) and to notice the outcome and make it a part of your daily ritual.

~ Jeriel (founder)

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  • Amazing and insightful journal! I really appreciate all your guidance. Thank you!!!

    Mary Jayne Weyeneth on

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